Northern Ireland’s Royal St George’s captain proud to assume Claret Jug responsibilities
Unless your name is Collin Morikawa or Darren Clarke, chances are you’re never going to get the opportunity to get your hands on the Claret Jug on the 18th green at Royal St George’s.
But one Dungannon man did achieve that dream, albeit as the official handing it over to the champion golfer instead.
As captain of Royal St George’s, Tim Dickson was the person entrusted with passing custody of the famous trophy to Morikawa after his victory at The Open two weeks ago and he admits it was one of the biggest thrills of his life to do so.
“It was the one thing my friends knew I’d be doing during the week, so there’d been a fair bit of ribbing about not dropping the Claret Jug!” laughs the Northern Irishman.
“When I walked out there, the excitement and warmth of the spectators towards The Open and the events that everybody had witnessed was incredible, and Collin was the most delightful guy. We exchanged a few words — I can’t remember exactly what I said, besides the usual ‘well played’.
“I was out there long enough to savour the atmosphere and I got a real feeling of warmth and excitement from the spectators that we were back watching a live sporting event again.”
It was an experience he nearly missed out on, though. Dickson was named captain of the Sandwich links last year but, as with every golf course around the world, things ground to a halt when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
That meant The Open was called off too, and with uncertainty over whether the R&A would return to Royal St George’s or go straight to St Andrews in 2021, as was originally scheduled, his chance might have passed him by.
But, fortunately for Dickson, he was handed a second year at the helm due to the extraordinary circumstances and the R&A did indeed give the club a second bite at the cherry.
So, accordingly, it was the Co Tyrone man who stood on the 18th green on the Sunday ready to greet Morikawa with the Jug.
“Almost literally the moment I became captain, early April last year, we were into crisis mode because we were into lockdown and the course had been closed,” reveals Dickson.
“The decision to nominate next year’s captain is traditionally taken at the end of May but, because of Covid, we optimistically delayed the meeting until later in the summer and then one thing led to another.
“I was told that I could keep going if I wanted to, and I naturally thought that would be a great honour and I’d love to.”
And, as captain of a royal golf club, there was an important duty he had to carry out besides handing over the trophy at the end of the week — greeting the Princess Royal when she dropped in to the club on the Friday of the tournament.
“We got copious briefing notes on what to say and make sure I bowed instead of curtseyed,” smiles Dickson. “But she turned out to be a very down to earth person and it was very straightforward to talk to her.”
The question does remain, though — how did a Dungannon man manage to become the captain of a royal golf club in England? The answer lies close to home: golf has been in Dickson’s life from a young age and has followed him since.
He was introduced to it by his parents, Rosemary and Tom — who was the longest serving member of both Dungannon and Royal Portrush prior to his death at the age of 97 in 2019 — and fell in love straight away.
A journalist by trade, even while working in Brussels as a correspondent with the Financial Times he caught on with a group of ex-patriots called the Irish Wild Geese, who toured around Europe playing courses across the continent.
Even today Dickson is a member of five golf clubs — Dungannon and Royal Portrush at home, Royal St George’s and Royal Wimbledon in England and St Andrews in Scotland — and is one of the few people to have captained two royal clubs, St George’s and Wimbledon.
That he managed to become a member at so many places was all luck, he modestly insists.
“When I was in university, I played for one of the golf teams and when I came to London I was lucky enough to be invited to a competition at Royal St George’s and bumped into some past captains,” explains Dickson.
“They asked where I played golf and I said nowhere at the moment, so they said perhaps you’d like to be a member here. That was quite a break!
“Royal Wimbledon happened 10 or 12 years later because that’s where my wife and I came to live and a local friend orchestrated me becoming a member there.
“Why on earth they both decided to make me captain is anybody’s guess, I’d served on committees at both and I’m guessing I must have been last man standing!”
Though Dickson himself laughs while also pouring cold water on the possibility of potentially handing over the Claret Jug for a second time if he happened to captain Royal Portrush when the tournament returns there next — reportedly in 2025 — he does admit he would be thrilled to see The Open back at the Dunluce links.
“The Open at Portrush was, up to that point, the best Open I’d been to. It was so well organised, so exciting. Unfortunately I now have to say the one that just took place slightly capped that — hopefully my friends back home will understand why,” he grins.
“We all want The Open back at Portrush as soon as possible and the way the championship was staged the last time was so good, I would be shocked if the R&A aren’t desperate to get back there as soon as possible.”